Specialists in flatwork handling agree that a balanced workflow throughout the plant is a prime requirement for maximising production in the finishing line.

Further, they say that the task of achieving a balanced workflow begins at the soiled work sorting stations.

For the finishing department to operate at its optimum rate, it must be supplied with the necessary quantities of work – an exacting task in laundries employing automation to cope with high volumes.


What types of feeding, folding and stacking arrangements are recommended for handling substantial volumes of large flatwork pieces?

What if buffer stocks of flatwork tend to build up at peak times and linen loses moisture while it hangs from a transport rail awaiting ironing? Then, what is the best feeding, folding and stacking arrangement for high volume, high quality small piece production?

As far as large pieces are concerned, feeding sequences need to be highly organised and managers need to find ways to ensure that individual operators deliver their best performance.

If transfer rail buffer stocks are causing problems and preventing them doing so the situation should be completely rethought.

Simplicity in design

For small pieces, machine design simplicity, equipment that assists manual feeding, and beyond-the-ironer automation all have distinct merits.

The correct preparation of large flatwork prior to the feeding stage is an essential step in ensuring efficient handling in the finishing department, maintains Jensen.

When pieces are properly separated at the pre-feed stage, introducing them to feeding station clamps is both easy and ergonomic.

The Jensen Viking 2000 separator is, as standard, equipped with a double picker and conveyor system to ensure that operators are provided with a continuous supply of well-separated flatwork.

Following the separation stage, feeding can be accomplished either by using a high capacity feeder or a decentralised feeding system.

Jensen’s Logic (2000) feeder will handle average volumes up to 750 pieces per hour and the Variant 4000 up to 1,000 pieces per hour.

Where ironer line production needs to be greater, Jensen recommends a decentralised system which will increase production per operator by about 20%. Here, operators work independently at their own speed, and location of the “second corner” of the linen is mechanically assisted.

With the Transfeed 2000 it is possible to feed up to 1,200 pieces per hour in one lane and up to 1,700 pieces per hour when two lanes are used.

The length of time linen is held in a buffer stock is monitored, and when the time exceeds a predetermined period, work in the buffer is automatically called to the feeder.

Efficiency and capacity

A decentralised arrangement achieves more than the improved efficiency that results from allowing operators to work independently and helping them find the “second corner”. It also achieves a higher capacity on a single ironer line and the possibility of automatic sorting of different large flatwork classifications.

Increasing capacity can save laundry space and can mean that a smaller investment is needed for the finishing department.

For folding large volumes of bed- linen, Jensen suggests its Classic which features an air blast action between pinch rollers. Depending on the quality demanded, the folder can be teamed with the highly accurate roll-off stacker or with the Max-stack drop stacker. Both stackers can be placed in series to allow the folder to sort classifications automatically.

For small piece folding, Jensen promotes its Magic-Napkin Bottom-up combination with integrated centering device. This folding and stacking arrangement produces fast, accurate, high quality results with a comprehensive range of fold specifications.

With higher ironer line running speeds and greater automation, controlling flatwork quality manually becomes impossible. The Jenscan Intelligent Eye will sort linen to more than one stacker, and will, as required, direct items to rewash or repair sections. The Jenscan Intelligent Eye scans the linen on the ironed side and with tablecloths, the ironed side is uppermost on the table. The equipment has been specially developed to cope with the rigours of the laundry environment and the sealing of the unit means dust and moisture are totally excluded.

The way that buffer stocks of washed linen are managed is important in maximising productivity. HJ Weir explains that its latest pressed cake handling, storage and processing systems provide a highly effective way of doing this, reducing clutter on the laundry floor.

Most up-to-date ironer lines can handle wet and dry laundry without the need for tumble dryers.

Shaking and breaking

Using dryers for shaking and breaking up cakes causes flatwork to tangle and leads to clutters of trolleys and bags.

  Adding no-dry stations, or using existing ones, on shuttle tracks or press discharge conveyors allows cakes to be stored neatly at a high level – leaving floor space clear for more valuable work-processing equipment.

High level storage conveyors can easily be integrated with the HJ Weir cake busting systems, shuttle trucks and Autoprep work separators.

Stored cakes do not lose moisture content as quickly as tumbled or hung sheets. Retaining work in cake form is not a problem – a Cake Buster can crumble a cake in less than one minute.

For small piece production, Weir offers its Vacfeed 27M, semi-automatic feeder.

This uses vacuum to hold the leading edge stable and square while trailing edge creases are dealt with by high efficiency vacuum ducts and feed rollers. The absence of complicated controls or pneumatics means that machines are low maintenance, highly reliable and available at affordable levels.

Complementing this feeder, the Weir Foldmaker 64 is designed for accurate primary folds on high quality small piece table linen and general small piece flatwork. A variety and combination of cross-folders, in-line stackers and collectors are available to operate this machine.

Selwyn Burchhardt of Ducker says that buffer stock arrangements for large pieces should be such that they are not held ahead of the feeder for more than 10 to 15 minutes, as this eliminates any risk of significant moisture loss.

Creating too large a buffer arrangement also takes up an unnecessary amount of space. Large piece feeding stations, remote from the feeder, improve work handling for operators and help maintain production through an ironer capable of finishing 1,000 large flatwork pieces per hour.

Continuous supply

Mr Burchhardt says that Kannegiesser high performance ironers are well able to cope with a continuous supply of unconditioned flatwork. However, to run effectively at 45m to 50m per minute, a steam pressure of 10bar is generally required.

For handling high quality table linen, Kannegiesser has introduced the EMD two-station feeder which has vacuum at the transfer point and other technical improvements which can increase output by 10% compared with the previous MEM two-station feeder.

Other production improvers from Kannegiesser include a feeder and folder for handling small pieces in six lanes across four metres. With the feeder, a vacuum transfer bar assists output – 700 to 800 items per hour can consistently be fed in each lane.

Beyond the ironer, one or two length folds are made and folded work is assembled on a stacker integrated with the equipment arrangement for each lane.

Chris Leeper of Broadbent Laundry Systems says that a laundry with fully automated washing systems and high capacity flatwork ironer can achieve outstanding productivity with minimal labour by investing in dedicated sheet feeding systems.

Such systems should include

automatic conveying equipment, sheet preparation units and feed-assistance to ensure that the ironer can consistently handle the maximum number of sheets.

Wash production and finishing department activities need to mesh. Delivery of work to the sheet preparation unit should ensure there is flatwork constantly available for the finishing process.

Feeding personnel should easily cope with the set production rates, typically 300 to 400 items per hour per operator, and the automatic sheet feeder should have sufficient buffer storage to maintain continuous edge-to-edge feeding.

Furthermore, the sheet folder should have automatic stacking and folding, and also transfer packs automatically to the packaging conveyor.

Mr Leeper points out that today’s high production ironers are able to process sheets taken directly from a membrane press cake without conditioning and that, therefore the risk of moisture loss is minimised.

Smaller operations that have to store flatwork in trolleys prior to finishing may encounter moisture loss. If this occurs, there may be a problem in balancing washroom output with finishing production.

The automation of small piece production, using multi-lane feeders and folders also involves a problem of logistics. While equipment is available for feeding and folding of small items in up to six lanes, high performance production depends on keeping operators continuously supplied with work.

Bag systems and conveyors can be used to direct work from the washroom to the feeding operators, achieving consistency of workflow and production control, and ensuring that equipment is used to the full. A production rate of 600 pieces per operator hour should be achievable.

Two types

Two types of folding and stacking systems are available. The in-line, drop stacking system simply provides in-line stacking of pieces that have had two primary folds. The multi-lane cross-fold and stack system provides an additional cross-fold and stacking for pieces which already have one or two primary folds. These systems can be provided with automatic take-off to packaging conveyors, reducing labour.

Mr Leeper says that a laundry with automated feeding, folding, stacking and transportation systems must control the production of the different classifications to ensure problem-free delivery of work to the packing department. Such control needs to involve the organisation of washroom work sorting and processing.

Preserving moisture

Jean Michel offers the Cygne pre-feeding system. Large flatwork items are delivered to the Cygne in cake or other bulk form which preserves moisture retention until just before the feeding stage. The Cygne separates the flatwork, preparing work, either individually or in small batches, for feeding.

The company suggests the use of its the Uniside three-station feeder where operators introduce the smaller edge of items to a feeding conveyor without clamps. Beyond the ironer, the Orion primary and cross-folding machine, and a stacker with rotating clamp, can be used particularly effectively.

For handling high volume, high quality small piece production, Jean Michel suggests its MiniNeptune feeder teamed with Titan primary folder and MagicVaristar stacker with cross-folding units.